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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A modest proposal to fix the economy

Published: April 24, 2009
Section: Opinions

With any luck, aging baby boomers may yet provide a boom for something other than Jefferson Airplane box-sets and Viagra. After sucking the nation dry with self-indulgent protests in the 60s, flares in the 70s, and basically everything that happened in the 80s, they might actually prove useful to us dead. Here’s the idea: impose a 100 percent tax on all property other than one residence, one automobile, and – say – $10,000 in personal property, including anything held in trusts created for the benefit of any private person(s), on the owner or trust settler’s death. Trusts benefiting registered charities are kosher.

This plan would achieve a few salutary purposes. First, it’s fair. Rich kids have enough benefits while their parents are alive; there’s no need to exacerbate those inequalities after they’ve already been given a massive head start. Passing assets from generation to generation tends to replicate race and class disparities over time and worsen America’s already shocking wealth distribution.

Leveling the playing field in this way would help to deliver on America’s egalitarian ethos and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps rhetoric. Plus, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but trust-fund babies are really obnoxious. Still, if you’re lucky enough be one (not for long, sucka!), there would be no impediment to parents buying life insurance to provide for their surviving family members, and joint or community property would pass to the surviving spouse or partner as it currently does. Indigent minors or dependents unable to work could be provided for by the government using some of the revenues from the tax.

And how ’bout those revenues? According to my super-unscientific Google research, the 20 richest Americans could pay for roughly 20 more car-manufacturer bailouts or, for the Republicans out there (surely there are some left), nearly five more years in Iraq. Their untimely deaths would also cover roughly 86 percent of what the Heritage Foundation claims the healthcare plan Obama ran on would cost (don’t bother fact-checking that; you’ll have to go to the Heritage Foundation website). These numbers are rough, but the point is that’s just 20 obscenely rich people; imagine the bloated government schemes millions of country club corpses could sustain.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Why don’t we just pass this law now and start shooting rich and upper-middle-class people?” But wait; there’s more. The plan does not depend on people actually dying right away. It creates an incentive for those who actually have the happy cabbage to spend, spend, spend while they can. Want to buy his and hers Aston Martins for you and your mistress? Go ahead; you can’t take it with you…or leave it behind.

Some of you may be skeptical. Perhaps you were mistreated as children. Whatever the source of your morbid outlook on life, let me set your twisted minds at ease by shooting down your irrational objections in advance.

“Won’t rich people simply find a way to cheat the system?” Perhaps, but they cheat now and taxes still make up a fair chunk of the federal government’s revenues. Plus, attempts to convey away assets in some dodgy way before death could be set aside in basically the manner fraudulent conveyances before bankruptcy are right now.

“Won’t they just leave like the Rolling Stones left England when it had ridiculously high tax rates?” Since this tax doesn’t affect people while they’re alive, there’s far less incentive to turn one’s life upside down to avoid it. Plus, “Exile on Main Street” rocks.

“Won’t people stop working hard if they know they can’t pass on their wealth?” Don’t be silly.

“Didn’t Soviet Russia try something similar and fail?” Yes, but that was a poor country where most people didn’t have much to begin with. Anyway, we’re far less protective of our liberties here.